real science for today's homeschooler

Roadcuts – Windows to the Past

Roadcuts - Windows to the Past

The next time you’re traveling with the kids and need to stop for a break, look for a roadcut with a large safe shoulder to walk around. Call attention to the rock layers visible on the surface of the cut, and ask children for their ideas about what caused the layers. Depending on the age of the child, topics of discussion can include:

 

  1. the type of rocks and how they formed (most formed as sediments deposited as they settled out of water)
  2. fossils that may be found in the rocks (type of organisms give further hints about the conditions under which the rocks formed)
  3. the angle of the rock layers (sediment laid down underwater would form horizontal rock layers; if there are angled rock layers, how did they get that way?)

Help children understand that the farther below the surface, the older the rock layer. An analogy about building a brick wall may help younger children understand . . . the bricks at the bottom of the wall were put down first and the bricks at the top where added last. If fossils are present in the rock layers, talk about which of the organisms are older than others.

When you’re back on the road, encourage children to use their imaginations to draw what the area might have looked like when the rock layers were forming. If you found fossils, have them draw what the living organism might have looked like based on the fossil remains.

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Making Rocks Fun!

Making Rocks Fun!

Okay, I have to admit, rocks sound boring to most people. But here’s a way to get kids interested in the topic of rocks and minerals!

Kids (and adults) love to find treasure. Purchase a bag of “mining rough” and you have a ready-made treasure hunt for your kids. Mining rough is the left over material generated by the mining process. To a mine that recovers and sells gemstones, it isn’t cost effective to spend time going through the left over material to pull out the small gemstones. They bag it “as is” and sell it at very reasonable prices. Going through the bag is literally a treasure hunt and you can find some very nice samples of amethyst, crystal quartz, and other gemstones including small samples of rubies and emeralds. Nothing that’s really worth much money, but pieces that will excite your kids!

There are many mines that sell this “mining rough,” but here’s a link to the one I order from: Cold River Mining Company. They do sell wholesale, but this link will take you to their “store” where you can buy individual bags. If you have a cave attraction nearby, you can probably purchase bags of mining rough there.

You’ll also need a sieve to separate the dirt from the larger rock and mineral specimens. You can purchase one from the mine, but it’s much cheaper to make your own. I would suggest getting a 1-foot x 1-foot piece of window screen to use as a sieve. The fiberglass screen works much better than the aluminum wire screen. The cut ends of the aluminum around the edges can puncture the skin!

The mining rough is dirt and rock straight out of the ground, so it can be messy. This is a great outdoor activity when the weather’s nice! Put the kids in their bathing suit or old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wet.

Here’s how to mine for gemstone treasure:

1. While your child holds the screen, add a small amount of mining rough to the center of the screen.
2. Spray the rough with a garden hose set on a low setting. The dirt will wash off revealing the rocks and minerals. (You can also dip the screen in a bucket of water, but the garden hose is much more fun!)
3. Collect the large pieces from the screen and let them dry.
4. The bags of mining rough usually come with an identification guide that kids can use to identify their gemstone treasures.

Be sure to explain to your budding geologists that gemstones are rocks and minerals that formed deep inside the Earth. Because the Earth is always moving and changing, sometimes these rocks and minerals get pushed up close enough to the surface for us to dig them up.

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